Pale Ones, a faerie host and the Lady of the Moon, Mistress of the Winter Wind

Writing a few faerie npcs for an Ars Magica game and thought I’d share the bits and pieces…as a story seedling. I’ve been wanting to share this post for a long while, but the story is almost done so no harm now.

The premise for the story is the friction between two separate groups of faeries who have been isolated within a regio for decades without human interaction. Recently the magi and covenfolk rediscovered the regio which revives both groups of fading faeries. Their skin becomes more colorful, their moods lighten, they rise from dormant states refreshed. Both groups are also overly keen to interact.

Fae of the Marketplace – the first group are playing out a marketplace setting, where the human interactors are given opportunities to trade, learn, and interact with fae as a common village market. Significant effects in the marketplace include:

  • Vendors and participants in the market will fade and then reappear every hour or so, sometimes changing appearance. This means that very few of the vendors will be present day after day, however once the vendors learn the types of objects the characters are seeking to buy they will be more present.
  • Three vendors will remain constant – a Toymaker, a Clothier, and a Trader. These three fae compete the most for human contact.
  • If groomed properly “the Marketplace” will make a good source of covenant stories, perhaps covenant income.

Fae of the Host – “the host” are a group of vicious hunters who prey on children to gain vitality, known as the Pales Ones. Each member reflects an aspect of being wintery, cold, lost, or hungry in their powers and movements, and also be either partial animals or full animals in appearance. Their role is to play out animalistic hunting behaviour; members of the host sniff out prey, and then the host hunts together to feed and kill.

These two groups have become entwined in the regio because a toymaker from the marketplace periodically sends his animated wooden children into the forest to seek out customers and interested humans, and they are destroyed by the Host. The toy maker also wishes to return to a deeper regio layer where his old home and workshop is, but is blocked by the Host.

The Host are frustrated with the true lack of prey.

The characters entered the scenario as visitors to the marketplace, potentially buying and trading for trinkets and gear.

Ghori, Lady of the Moon, Mistress of the winter wind. A Pale One.

Lady Ghori is an ultra thin grey skinned woman with mostly human features, notable is an overall feline taint to her eyes, ears, and teeth, and very long white hair, often braided in three thick strands. She dresses in long robes and coats of grey, white, and charcoal, decorated with teeth, bone and trimmed with animal hides.

Lady Ghori will often ride an unnaturally large wolf when she has to travel long distances or quickly, her mount of choice for the fear and distrust it incites in mortals. The wolf is not combative though, more smoke and glamour than a beast.

She is called “mistress” or “Lady Ghori” by her host of lesser faeries, as she hunts and feeds with them on children and lost travellers at nighttime. Lady Ghori has grown more powerful than the other members of the host, unknowingly changing her story to be the leader of the Host. She now thinks that she a distant cousin to a noble cast of fae known as the Pale Ones, and the Host are her followers.

Story Guides should tweak Lady Ghori’s Might score to use her as a combative challenge. She is intended to be very difficult for grogs alone to defeat, and with a handful of her host she might make a reasonable challenge to a Magus.

Goals: To risk her life hunting humans with her host (see below), provoking violent responses. To invoke fear.

Method: Lady Ghori stays in hiding, using the host to scavenge for lost travellers. When a potential target is she joins the host in playing cat and mouse games with the prey, eventually leading to a physical confrontation. As she drawn her energy from the reactions of fear she prefers to draw out fights and induce anger. Best played as a bully, with her weaknesses being greed for energy and her own fear of being ridiculed.

Faerie Might: 15

Characteristics:  Int 0, Per +2, Pre 0, Com 0, Str +0,  Stm +1,  Dex +1,  Qik +2, Size: -1

Virtues: Faerie Speech, Humanoid Faerie, Cognizant within Role,  Flaws: Cyclic Potency (weaker in daytime) -1, (balance to buy powers)

Personality Traits: Careful+1, Cruel +3, cat +1

Combat: Longspear  Init +5,  Atk +8,  Dfn +9,  Dmg +6

Soak: +3 (layered leather armor) , Fatigue: OK, 0, -1, -3, -5, Unconscious; Wounds: -1 (1-4)

Pretenses:  Good Combative skills, a few negotiation skills, and hunting skills.

Powers:

  • Sidestep 0 points, Init -5, Can teleport 5 or so paces at will.
  • Confusion: 2 points, Init +2, Mentem: as the level 15 ReMe Confusion of the Numbed Will. When used a cold wind will be felt in the area.
  • Chilling Wind: 1 point, (CrAu/IgPe) creates a wind that chills all within for a fatigue level.
  • Winter Snow 0 points (CrAq) makes snow fall over a wide area.

Equipment: Full leather armour, longspear, shortsword, trinkets and jewelry,

Vis:  3x pawns of Corpus vis in hands.

Continue reading

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Faerie Greater Power – Animate Toy

A story in an Ars Magica game I’m playing in has a toy maker who crafts animated dolls inspired from Geppetto and Pinocchio. I couldn’t find a nice matching Faerie power in the books so decided to borrow from the Animae Magic rules (from HoH:MC p.92-95) which are very close to what I had in mind. Writing this up means it might break all sorts of rules but it will do it consistently which I think is important, especially if the characters need to interact with the toys themselves.

Animae Magic creates a faerie from normal materials, and that faerie is then unleashed upon the world. The toy maker NPC is not meant to be able to create complex intelligence and life with his creations (which is something that Animae magic can actually do!) so this power is designed to be a less powerful version of that major virtue.

Greater Power: Animate Toy (+3 Supernatural Fae)

Geppetto sculpting a giant head

Geppetto, by Bill Willingham (Vertigo Comics)

The targeted toy is granted simplistic animation and behaviour which must reflect its form and purpose. Toys are often playful, and can never be imbued with complex intelligence. Animals are playful, humanoids mimic a narrow set of acts, such as a fighting knight, a travelling messenger, a hunting dog, a singing bird. The toys may defend themselves, or even attack others if they are crafted with that intent.

This power must be used upon a physical toy which has been primarily crafted by the caster, must be of high quality, and must be made up of materials primarily suited to the Form of the base guideline used. When the animation ends the toys are still high quality and fully functional as toys, and are suitable for re-enchantment.

The enchantment duration of the animation is non-standard, designed so that the duration starts from the toy being triggered by unwrapping or being unboxed, and ends according to the effect design. This supports the toys being used as gifts.

Animated toys have a Might score equal to the extra power used in the enchantment, as noted in each effect design. Base cost to use this power is equal to one fifth the final enchantment level calculated as (MuHe Base 4, +n for Might Power, +1 Touch, with Duration variable to the toy maker’s desires) rounded down.

(Animae Guideline: Muto Herbam base 4 to alter a wooden item into a Faerie).

Example uses:

Playful Pup (MuHe21) (base 4, +1 Touch, +3 Moon, +1 level for Might: 1) This effect animates a small toy puppy to behave as a playful, happy, and highly obedient young dog. Cost: 2 might to cast.

Carnival of Delights (MuHe25) (base 4, +1 Touch, +2 Ring, +0 Circle, +1 complexity, +5 levels for Might: 5 each) This effect animates all the toys within an arena to dance, skip, and play like their shapes. Cost: 5 might to cast.

Child of the Carnival (MuHe31) (base 4, +1 Touch, +5 Until, +1 levels for Might: 1) This effect animates a child sized doll to flutter about playing and dancing. The D: Until is used here to dictate “until the toy leaves the marketplace”, so that the toy will provide entertainment to the caster. Cost: 6 might to cast.

Wooden Shield Grog (MuHe40) (base 4, +1 Touch, +5 Until, +1 levels for Might: 1, +9 for +18 Pen) This effect animates a 5 feet tall wooden soldier to guard the owner and defend them from harm. The D: Until is used here to dictate “the owner arrives back home safely”, so that the toy will protect somebody on a long journey. however different soldiers could have different Until conditions. Cost: 8 might to cast.

These example powers roughly present descriptions which could be from the Faerie Supernatural Virtue: Animae Magic.

The Animate Toy power is more limited in scope than the Animae supernatural virtue as the item must be first crafted, and the animation must match the purpose. However the ability to hold the duration from starting is very non-hermetic and quite powerful, and would typically need to be designed as an additional power involving Rego Vim magic. The intent is to create a power which thematically reflects the gifts which would be created by a faerie toy maker – therefore this is a very deliberate break from Ars Magica guidelines for the sake of a faerie story.

What happens during a Tremere Gauntlet?

The Apprentice Gauntlet in Ars Magica is the last event and potentially the biggest which a starting Ars Magica Magus character will have before gameplay begins. For some Houses this is just a formality and for others it is an arduous or horrible test. In some sagas the character background is not complete until the player has detailed the gauntlet, and that’s an approach I strongly encourage. The members of House Tremere use the magical competition called Certamen as this test of skill and capability.

The Houses of Hermes book for House Tremere describes a Certamen event between the Master and Apprentice which the Apprentice can lose and usually will. It is ceremonial in nature, and as in many other aspects of a Magi’s life are more complex, I’m imagining that often there is more to the process than a single round of Certamen.

Here are notes from a play-by-post game in which a Tremere character is arranging the gauntlet of his Apprentice (thread on the forums).  Continue reading

a story tidbit

The man runs quickly down a muddy overgrown track. Branches whip as he races and behind him the sun drops below the tree line. He pants and scrambles as he moves through the scrub. A dishevelled beard, ratty clothes, and a scrawny collection of old furs cover his body. A fur bundle clutched to his panting chest. Clearly afraid, he runs. It must be saved.

In the distance a bell sounds, the tone warping strangely as it peals over the trees. Everything here is discordant.

When the man pauses his running it becomes clear how thin his frame is and how malnourished he must be. The fear in his eyes explaining why the ice and snow underfoot hardly slow him. He is breathing hard even while standing still, chest heaving.

The bell tones again, it’s tone becoming dull and flat far too soon. Is it dull or is his mind now addled? He stretches his back, breathes in deeply, then begins running again. As he moves his breath makes streams of fog behind him. He runs.

The bell tones a final time, the sound faint now but still ending shortly, like a hand has muffled the vibrations, like silencing the bark of an errant dog.

As he moves from the track into the proper woods the brush thins and the trees spread themselves sparsely so that the tepid moonlight teases down into the leaves, but does not reach enough of the ground below. His tired eyes gain nothing from the light except the realisation that almost any other night would have been better than the washed out light he has chosen tonight. Did he even choose? A slow hiss spoken far away reaches his ears. He runs faster.

His fear slides to dread, they know he has escaped. It knows too, and the safety of the border is well too far.

Reluctantly he stops running and then searches the trees around him. He reaches into the fur bundle to the small crucifix pecked from rotten wood by his bloody fingernails. It’s surface caked in old blood and the wood is black in the shallow light. Shaking hands bundle scrawled leathers into snow. His hands work to scape away the frost then the old earth so that the bundle can be sunk deep.

The hiss comes again, sounding louder and stronger. He can picture the brown and yellow teeth and thin craggy hands of the owner.

He presses the crucifix atop the replaced snow, and wipes his jittery hands down the sodden rough tunic. Standing still takes determination, he silently prays for a moment. It is all the time he really has left.

Resigned now, he runs again. Any direction, away from the bundle.

The third hiss is so close he can almost hear the chipper chatter of her teeth, her long drawn breath, and imagine the thin unpleasant smile; lips stretched too tight across sharpened teeth and eyes uncaring by design. “Ssss-slow my beautiful sssnow. You make me sssad, so don’t run so.”

Snow. His old name and the hiding place of the only legacy which matters now. His breath puffs between cracked lips as he lets out a grunted laugh. His legs slow him, his back rises, lifting his sweeping limbs from the ground. They have him again. She has him. As she materialises in front of him from the dank air his chin and arms shake, face wet with tears.

“Ahhhh, my beautiful boy. Home sssssnow, we must go.”

Deathwatch mission background fluff

“What is the terror of death? That we die, our work incomplete.”

“However, what is the joy of life? To die, knowing our task is done.”

As part of starting a short Deathwatch game, I thought to write a little introduction, or background teaser. Hopefully useful and entertaining…

[begin] [data log 000000040001-AH-4771-k-00002] [Sec Com: Edict]
[Designation: Insertion Delta I-327] [Mission: Lachernei-P1-MH0] 
[Action: Immediate]

Signals division report malformed emissions from MWI-012 (planet 
Hartel-3). Immediate reconnaissance required. August-3 Fireteam 
to deploy via transport IST-1-6 (The Bloodied Hand). Rendezvous 
for extract at MWI-590 (asteroid Choking-Heathen). Additional 
assets at discretion of local command.

Objectives:
[1] Orbital Survey MWI-012.
[1] Signals Emissions Recording.
[2] Threat Assessment.
[3] Neutralize Threat.
[1] Rendezvous MWI-590.

Non-standard combat requisition: Approved: Augur Servo-skull. 
[data log 41-AH-4771-k] [end]

(extract of inquisitor log, entry #1)

Fireteam has been expanded with additional Imperial navy resources to include a signals specialist and a handful of general guard, a few of them boots. It took very little persuasion for the SS to familiarize himself with the improved Augur from the ship’s deep store, and the boat’s captain is looking longingly at the device even though I’ve implied that it will be his skull next if it was not to be returned. These Imperials are ordinary but adequate. I am wary of what we will find at the rock as the mission brief was short and unexpected.

My commander will assign two of our own to watch the SS, and the rest can go under general command for the deployment. I praise the captain for his quiet entry to system.

(extract of inquisitor log, entry #2)

MWI-590 is exactly as Temple charter described, and it has created a stir amongst the boots. They initially appeared to be nervous about the deployment upon seeing the C-Hazard, and the auspicious proclivity for exaggeration by the Fireteam made this no better. Despite my warning I have forgiven them this indulgence.

(extract of inquisitor log, entry #3)

Hartel-3 is without question unclean. I have rarely seen filth of this nature, and never on this scale. My report to Temple recommended global sanctification and the Captain has requested same through navy command. As expected response will take time. Tomorrow we close for inspection.

Such days as these test our mettle, and we are reforged stronger in His name.

(extract of inquisitor log, entry #4)

The beast struck sure at our orbit, and cleverly waited some time before its strike. Our Fireteam were fully deployed on planet so while the damage to the hull was brief and brutal, our troop was diminished only slightly; some 40 hands, twelve Imperial guard, and our barber-surgeon.

Fireteam has made contact with the creature and found it passive. I suspect it has the rare intelligence to be pondering the team’s purpose, whereas the The Bloodied Hand was here for only the creature’s ill.

I will pray for those lost, and more so for those who fight on. Their is the purest purpose, my His shield and sword be ever present. More cannot be committed to insecure logs.

WH40k-Marine-solo

B is for Beginnings

B is for Beginnings.

Stories need to start somewhere, and getting a good beginning is important. To get a real sense of background on a story seed, here are some things to consider when a story begins:

  • Give names, and also nationalities, alliances, and consideration of the NPCs prejudice when you create them. An NPC with an odd racial or nationalistic bend can help define them.
  • Consider who the npcs are reporting to, and perhaps what is motivating them.
  • A tag line or saying can really help keep you on track when playing an npc, and remind you quickly. eg. “an elderly con-man, who fakes a hacking cough, and arthritis.” A “hulk of a man, bounded in rough armor, but a voice like a true tenor.”
  • Go digging through google images, using terms like sketch, character, or portrait to find a suitable visual representation of npcs.
  • Locations can be treated as much like Npcs as characters, particularly if they are meant to be supernatural or will feature in multiple sessions. The “disused lobby, with refuse in the lift”, or “boarded up well, surrounded by the corpses of small birds”.
  • Don’t be afraid to tweak the beginning afterward. As much as a GM’s ideas are important, the beginning ideas of players can be better, and will engage the player in the setting if they are spot on the theme.
  • Set some victory and achievement goals when the story begins. Some game systems require this, but even those which do not stipulate it can be helped when you know where the initial story should lean toward.
  • Grab maps. Many sample maps exist for isolated encounters, and tabletop rpg games can be usefully focused on a map as an element to hook the players in.
  • Draw in players with hooks dedicated for their characters. These can sometimes be sent in advance or separately from the main story threads, and pulled out when needed. If only there was time enough to run a sub-story for each PC.

Part of the Blogging A to Z initiative, is to create an A-Z list of some sort, and I’m posting what ever random thoughts pop into my head for each letter of the alphabet.

So many to do to catch-up to today’s letter!

A game on Rails…excellent

Oh wow, its been a while; but good fortune and a barbaric desire for reckless entertainment have me pondering playing in an RPG once again. Excellent.

I have a hope, backed by the GM’s plan to relight the fire under a DeathWatch game that my gaming circle was playing. We’re once again going to become a squad of twelve foot tall armored tech-noir Paladins, who’s single purpose is to being the Emperor’s light to the screaming hordes. The Emperor Protects. Yes, I’ll be there!

Heh, DeathWatch – the RPG game where you use RPGs (rocket propelled grenades, amongst other nasty toys).

We’re also pondering either a Warhammer Fantasy or Pathfinder game to play in the midst of the DeathWatch game, and with the group we have the theme needs to be similar. You see our team plays well on rails.

train rail

You have three choices... Well one; but it feels like three.

The story flows around the team, and we tend to love combat heavy games, where the direct approach is not only viable but mandatory. For most of us (including my humble self) the subtle approach takes too much time and uses way too much of the forward lobe.

We’ve tried games with deep and wide lore, where both the good guys and bad guys are shooting at us, and it got really hard to not try to just kill everyone.

Our motto almost became “Kill them all and let God sort them out”, except we knew we were the bottom of the talent food chain. And that meant we could only kill lightly armored hamsters. While they were asleep. And tied down.

All sarcasm aside, I don’t think it is a bad thing to want simple stories. Based upon the DeathWatch game I summarise our style/need as:

  • lore of being a marine in the WH40k setting, as who doesn’t like being the universal badass,
  • the fact that the mechanics reflect that lore (us being darn tough),
  • we tend to like the brute force approach for confrontations,
  • the game mandates that we’re a kill team who works together – so no real internal conflict is allowed from day one. No hidden vampires, no mind control, no group of 5 angry selfish bastards.
  • we have an RP ethic in-built too.
  • the stories are basically on rails, and the rails tend to be logical and can be followed.

All in all there are good reasons too:

  • Every player is darn busy (has children, full time work, partners, and/or plenty to do).
  • We gather to enjoy catching up as much as the game.
  • Thematic stories with subtle twists are hard to retain unless you play very regularly; which all of us can’t do.
  • We tend to not be strong roleplayers, meaning as in-character actors, not the mechanical side of the game.

So here we are. A set of gamers who know all too well that time is a critically limited resource, but wish to play something regardless. I’ve accepted my somewhat thug-ish nature, and am looking forward to roleplaying again.

So how do you run a good Rails game? I’m not sure. The two GMs are probably pondering this now. My unsolicited 2c has me thinking that our team needs to make some concessions on time and play style. The games should allow for:

  • short punchy sessions.
  • allowance for characters to leave and join the gaming table as needed between sessions, so that means either NPC’ing a character, or legit lore ways to get them into and out of the action (Clone Insertion Round from Paranoia is not an option).
  • a story akin to a good action film, with clearly defined goals. Rescue the npc, defeat the demon, and collect the 8 artefacts of doom – perfect.
  • as the team is 5-7 males, getting heavy on the slaughter is never bad (you can’t have slaughter without laughter).
  • The players need to accept the nature of a “on-rails” game.

The last point is critical to a game surviving. Well critical for me to remember anyway.

In the last Warhammer Fantasy game I lost my patience with the disparity of choices and the lack of influence I perceived, and basically encouraged the party to get slaughtered. My fed up character charged angrily into a few heavily armed solider types and their 5-15 archer buddies waiting on the road side.

Needless to say it was a blood bath, and a plot-rending action. I’d still argue to this day that the module should have allowed for the PCs doing something that stupid, with some sort of recover stance; but once the event was played it was all but impossible to recover. It also pissed more than a few of the players off. WHFRP is brutal, and even if that had been D&D 2nd Edition, we’d be murdered, so in Warhammer it was just a walk over.

The thing that I’ll need to keep in mind for next time is the flavor of the game. The illusion of choice is important to define; either I have it or I don’t – but if you’re juxtaposing giving an open story but no real choice, then it will lead to trouble. Our GM did warn us/me multiple times about the game being brutal, and also that it was a scripted module. What did not translate till afterward (I mentioned our play-style above) is how poor it felt to be on rails when the game told us we were not. The GM did, but the setting and story style was built to a more open path style game.

I’m looking forward to playing on rails this time. The emotional investment in the story will stay appropriate to the action. Playing a character in rails means we can keep it simple. Foes will often be clearly articulated; friends will offer advice, and rewards will be progressive. The mechanical game becomes a major part of the experience, and the lore might be fudged a tad here and there.

It also gets me thinking that the “on-rails” games are the ones I like running the least. I like choice as a GM, but the time it takes to run even a short open ended story is ten times more that I have free, and with out team’s style I can’t see them playing deeply in that either.

There you have it; a gamer of (many) years experience wishing to keep it simple, mash the button, and enjoy the game.

Happy killing.